Man Sentenced To 80 Years For Rape, Faces Additional Charges For Murder Of Jogger

Cleotha Abston

A Tennessee man, Cleotha Abston, has been sentenced to 80 years in prison for raping a woman in 2021, a year before being charged with the kidnapping and murder of a school teacher.

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Lee Coffee handed down the sentence on Friday, allocating 40 years for aggravated rape, 20 years for aggravated kidnapping, and another 20 years for being a felon in possession of a weapon. The sentences will run consecutively.

Abston, 40, was convicted on April 12 for the rape, during which he held the victim at gunpoint. The incident occurred after the victim met Abston through a social dating site and went to his apartment.

According to court testimony, Abston covered the woman’s face with a T-shirt, led her outside, and raped her in the backseat of his girlfriend’s vehicle. Judge Coffee described Abston’s actions as displaying “exceptional cruelty.”

Abston opted to waive a sentencing hearing, which could have included testimonies from witnesses.

His lawyer, Juni Ganguli, stated that this decision was made to avoid a “circus” in court. Prosecutor Paul Hagerman remarked that Abston’s sentence is “effectively a life sentence.” Ganguli has indicated plans to appeal the conviction and file for a new trial, asserting Abston’s innocence in the charges of rape, kidnapping, and weapon possession.

The delay in Abston’s arrest for the 2021 rape was due to a lag in processing the sexual assault kit. This delay has been highlighted in the wake of Abston’s subsequent charges for the 2022 kidnapping and murder of Eliza Fletcher, a kindergarten teacher and mother of two.

Fletcher was abducted during an early morning jog near the University of Memphis on September 2, 2022. Her body was discovered days later near a vacant duplex.

Abston has pleaded not guilty to the charges related to Fletcher’s death, and prosecutors have announced intentions to seek the death penalty if he is convicted of first-degree murder. The trial date for this case has not yet been set.

The Memphis community was deeply affected by Fletcher’s death, leading to numerous tributes and early-morning runs held in her memory.

Abston’s arrest was facilitated by the detection of his DNA on sandals found at the abduction site, and an autopsy revealed that Fletcher died from a gunshot wound to the head, with additional injuries to her leg and jaw.

In response to Fletcher’s murder, the Tennessee Legislature passed a law requiring the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to issue quarterly reports on the testing times for sexual assault kits.

The 2021 rape victim has sued the city of Memphis, alleging that the police department failed to properly investigate her case. However, the lawsuit was dismissed by a judge.